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2 posts from February 8, 2014

February 08, 2014

Inside look at some of Dolphins' young players and Ross' decisions; Golden's defense of D'Onofrio; Heat


Among many things new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey needs to get a handle on is what he has in his young players and what he can realistically expect from them in 2014. He’ll review tape but also rely on the evaluation of Joe Philbin and his staff.

Before Hickey draws his own conclusions, here's some feedback on some of those young players that we've received from inside the building:

### Young cornerbacks: Evaluations must be made quickly, because Brent Grimes is a free agent (Hickey will try to keep him), Nolan Carroll is a free agent and Dimitri Patterson, who was limited to six games by injury, is under contract at $4.5 million, but has no cap hit if he’s cut.

The coaching staff likes 2013 second-round pick Jamar Taylor and attributes his lack of playing time (45 defensive snaps) to two factors --- injuries “that were debilitating,” largely the result of May hernia surgery; and the fact that Carroll offered a more polished, experienced option when Patterson was injured.

But coaches like Taylor’s skill set. “We’re going to see better dividends from him in 2014,” one Dolphins football staffer predicted.

As for 2013 third-round pick Will Davis, “the lack of special teams value hurt him,” the Dolphins source said. “He has a lot of upside but needs to develop physically and mentally. He doesn’t have the knowledge and savvy of Carroll. We like him. He makes a lot of plays in practice, and that needs to translate to games. He needs a year in the weight room.”

### Dion Jordan: The coaching staff loves his tools but believes he needs to add more muscle mass to play the run more effectively (he intends to) and shore up his pass rush moves. He would not project as a 2014 starter.

Some inside the Dolphins believe he might be better at linebacker, but defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has said he prefers him at end because he loves having Koa Misi on the field on first down. And Misi’s spot is the only linebacker position that some evaluators believe he would be well suited if he doesn’t play defensive end.

“When we drafted Jordan, nobody expected Olivier Vernon to develop like he did,” a Dolphins source said. “My concern is [Jordan] will have struggles playing against bigger tackles. If you play him at linebacker, he has far more range and speed and explosiveness than Misi. But Koa is more consistent and steady. Jordan gives you great flexibility because he can cover and rush the passer. This is a huge offseason for him.”

### Lamar Miller/Daniel Thomas: Hickey likely will receive mixed reviews.

“They’re a good complement to each other, and we like Miller’s speed and explosiveness,” the Dolphins staffer said. “Miller has the higher ceiling, but you wish he ran with a more physical [style]. And both have to improve as blockers.”

Most believe the Dolphins will add a running back, with LeGarrette Blount and Donald Brown among free agents available. ESPN's Mel Kiper said no running back might be selected in the first round, with Ohio State's Carlos Hyde a borderline first-rounder.

### Guard/tackle Dallas Thomas: Last season’s third-round pick didn’t show nearly enough to earn playing time (just two snaps all season), despite the offensive line’s deficiencies.

“He’s got a lot of physical upside but needs to mature as a professional,” a team source said. “He can be a quality backup at least. I don’t know if he has the intangibles to be a starter. It was disappointing that he didn’t [show enough] to play.”

### Dion Sims: He doesn’t offer the downfield threat Miami prefers in its starting tight end. But the Dolphins believe he improved considerably overall since arriving.

“You needed a guy who could compete at the point of attack and he does that,” a Dolphins football staffer said. “He’s versatile, athletic, will be a very good No. 2 tight end.”

### Jelani Jenkins: The staff likes his ability in pass coverage. He took 29 snaps away from Phillip Wheeler in the Week 15 Patriots game but played just five and four defensive snaps to close the season against the run-heavy Bills and Jets.

“He has the potential to be a weakside linebacker starter and can be a starter when you open in a nickel package,” the Dolphins official said. “Finding a good cover linebacker is easier said than done, and he can do that.” His development could allow the Dolphins to part ways with Wheeler and add a linebacker that excels against the run.


### Before we turn the page, some final postscripts from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ organizational tinkering the past month: Ross asked GM candidates their opinion of random players (some Dolphins, some from Michigan, some others) and loved the thoroughness of Hickey’s answers. One Dolphins official insists of all the candidates, Hickey displayed the most encyclopedic knowledge of players. Ross also liked his lack of ego and commitment to innovation.….

Even if Carl Peterson hadn’t criticized Scott Pioli, Ross had no interest in Pioli or most other former GMs because he liked the idea of hiring someone who hadn’t done it before. Former Denver GM Brian Xanders got an interview only because he’s considered analytic and innovative, and Ross loves those qualities….

What perplexed the Dolphins as much as anything the past month was Cleveland’s Ray Farmer refusing to specifically explain what his problem was with the organizational structure. “I assume they would’ve given me the job,” Farmer said last week. “That’s the way it was articulated to me. But it wasn’t the right time for me.”

The Dolphins also didn’t like that Tennessee’s Lake Dawson announced he turned the job down; the Dolphins insist no formal offer was made, unlike with the Patriots’ Nick Caserio. But in conversations, they did ask Dawson if he would take the job under certain scenarios, and Dawson considered that an offer. But the Dolphins didn't view Dawson as substantially better than Hickey.…

Considering Ross was wowed by Caserio’s presentation, did he seriously consider agreeing to Caserio’s demand to be given the authority to overhaul the organization “from the ground up," including the coach? No, a close friend of Ross insisted, because Ross is “loyal to his people,” and loves Philbin’s "intelligence" and "how he handled" the locker-room crisis. Caserio might have hired Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels as Dolphins coach but never told the Dolphins that….

Biggest problem between Ireland and Philbin? “Lack of respect,” one Dolphins official said, noting it reached the point that working together became untenable. So now Ross has a coach and GM who like each other. That's a start, but player evaluation is the far more important issue.

### Encouraging news for those who want to see UM blitz more and play more man coverage: Al Golden said last week UM will be more aggressive in its defensive approach this season.

Here's how Golden answered when WQAM’s Channing Crowder asked Golden what he says to people who criticize him about his loyalty to defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio

"It doesn't have anything to do with my loyalty to D'Onofrio," he said. "It has to do with: We were better this year than last year. And two seasons ago we played 14 or 15 freshmen on defense. Now we're
better. We've been trying to add to that and improve on defense during a very difficult time.

"Here's what our defense was good enough to do last year: They were good enough to win nine. Now we've got to get better and win more games. The offense wasn't good on third down [or] time of possession. Both of those directly impact defense.

"Anybody who wants to blitz and play cover 1, who wouldn't want to do that? We feel we have a group here that is going to allow us to be more aggressive. The deeper you are, the more athletic you are, the more things you can do.       

"You can call all the pressers you want. If your fourth and fifth [rushers] aren't getting there, someone is hung out to dry down the field. We've made a lot of progress there, adding 14 guys [on defense] that can help us. Most of our guys that had interceptions, sacks, caused fumbles are returning. Why would we abort right now?"

### Please see the post from earlier Saturday for more Dolphins and Canes items.

### Very unusual game Saturday for LeBron James, who tied a season low with 13 points, shot just 4 for 13 and committed five turnovers. His four third-quarter "turnovers were careless ones, got me out of rhythm," he said. Even against a weak Jazz team, Miami couldn't overcome a rare LeBron off night partly because Chris Bosh also scored 13, on 3 for 12 shooting.

"It's just one of those days," Erik Spoelstra said of LeBron. "You're not going to play great every single night."

### Losing in Utah is nothing new for Miami, which has dropped four of its past five in Salt Lake City. But this was a disappointing effort against a lottery-bound Utah team that's 17-33 and the worst team in the Western Conference. 

What's more, Miami lost for the ninth time against a sub-.500 team, a bad habit that is seriously damaging its chances of catching Indiana for the No. 1 seed. "We don't take anybody light," LeBron insisted.

### Even on a night when the Heat struggled for offense and failed to reach 90 points for only the third time, Erik Spoelstra still wasn't motivated to use Michael Beasley, whose minutes have dropped dramatically in recent weeks. He might have helped during a third quarter drought.

"We didn't have a lot of rhtyhm offensively," said Spoelstra, who previously hasn't offered any substantive reason for Beasley's reduced role when I've asked. "There wasn't a great flow."

### Entering Saturday, the Heat had outscored teams by 12 in 39 minutes when Greg Oden and Chris Bosh play together but had been outscored by 20 in 20 minutes when Oden plays without Bosh.

Considering Shane Battier's difficulties defending David West, the hope is Oden progresses enough to play a lot of big lineups against the Pacers, with Oden or Chris Andersen paired with Bosh.

Seven of Oden’s nine baskets so far this season have been dunks, and he said he has more he wants to show offensively, including a hook shot.

Oden logged 11 scoreless minutes Saturday night (one off his season high), and had four rebounds and a block and a plus-four plus/minus. Many of those minutes were without Bosh, and he was the first player off the Heat bench in the third quarter, which is unusual.

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

Saturday notes: Coley on UM recruiting class; Dolphins, Canes

Canes offensive coordinator James Coley, who has been a great asset in UM’s recruiting efforts, wasn't available to the general media on National Signing Day but shared some thoughts on this recruiting class with UM’s web site (hurricanesports.com):

### On quarterback additions Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier: "Neither one of them ever said, ‘Well, the other guy is coming.’ And you get that a lot," Coley said. ‘Tell me about the other guy that’s coming.’ That says a lot about the guy that’s coming. Those guys never said that.”

Coley said "Kaaya is a guy early who didn’t have a lot of offers but we knew he was going to be a guy that would be the best in the country and would get a lot of attention.

"We went into Mobile and went after Malik Rosier. I know he was a special player. He had a lot of toughness and understands the game. He has the ability to run and be a threat running but he can throw the ball.

"Two tough guys who are big-time competitors,... who are extremely smart. You want them to come here as freshmen and walk in with a little swagger, a feeling of, 'I can play here.'  I think we did that."

 ### On offensive linemen KC Dermott, Trevor Darling and Nick Linder: "We felt those three are guys that can come in and not only play right away,… but they can go from being guards to tackles and smart enough to play center. They are flexible. We went into Dade and felt we got the best, went into Broward and felt we got the best, went into Palm Beach and felt we got the best."

### On the new receivers: "It just happened to fit that they all play three different positions. Rarely do you have the luxury to take the guys you feel are the best at those positions.

"We took a big X in Darrell Langham, 6-5. He came to our camp… and was moving and playing fast. We took a Z in Tyre Brady. At 6-3, a big Z. We feel he can do a lot of different things, great change of direction, great burst.

"Braxton Berrios… can play the slot. But he’s so smart,… he’s not limited to the slot. He can be an outside guy and hold his own. He’s got enough savviness to understand how to play against different players and how to play a little possum. We filled our need. It’s going to be fun watching those guys compete."

### He said four-star running back Joseph Yearby "is built similar to Duke Johnson, very versatile just like Duke. When he’s out there, he’s got a different look in his eye."

Coley said “Duke looks great coming out of his injury.” Al Golden said neither Johnson nor Yearby is healthy enough to participate in spring football following their leg injuries.

### By the way, UM slid to 12th in Rivals.com’s final recruiting rankings, compared with 10th for ESPN. Both are very good but would have been better if Travonte Valentine, Nigel Bethel, Brandon Powell and Reilly Gibbons hadn’t bolted.

What hurt UM in the rivals.com rankings was lack of four-star recruits (eight), compared with teams ahead of them, including FSU (13) and Florida (12). In Rivals.com’s top 18, only Clemson had fewer four-star recruits. UM had one five star recruit (Chad Thomas).

Overall, UM finished behind FSU (fourth) and UF (8th) in the Rivals rankings. But Miami was fifth among non-SEC schools, behind only Florida State, Ohio State, USC and Notre Dame, which is pretty impressive.

### CBS’ Jason LaCanfora posted a generally negative piece on the state of the Dolphins this week, aside from pointing out the team’s enviable cap position. (As we’ve reported, Miami will have between $30 million and $34 million in space, depending on tenders to some bottom-of-the-roster players. But Brent Grimes could take up another $11 million of cap space if he’s franchised.)

LaCanfora offered one news nugget in the piece, noting that Joe Philbin was “professing his belief in Matt Moore to several of the GM candidates and demanding more from Ryan Tannehill."

"He definitely wants to push Tannehill more," one source who has spoken to Philbin about the quarterbacks told LaCanfora. "And if he doesn't see improvement he said he might go to Moore at some point. He definitely has a lot of faith in Moore, and they're paying him a lot of money."

Moore will make $4 million this season, with a $5.5 million cap hit.

The view here: Unless Tannehill is awful and the Dolphins are losing a lot partly or largely because of him, it’s short-sighted (many would say downright foolish) to bench him next season considering: 1) Tannehill has more upside than Moore; 2) Tannehill made considerable progress this season (10th in yards, 11th in completions) despite a dreadful offensive line; and 3) The Dolphins must determine this year if he’s their quarterback of the future, which they remain hopeful about.

LaCanfora does generally good work and breaks stories, but in assessing the Tannehill report, we should note that he was both right and wrong in covering the Dolphins’ machinations of the past month, incorrectly reporting that one of the finalists (Lake Dawson) was no longer under consideration and that Stephen Ross’s upcoming trip to London and possibly China could sidetrack the GM search for a week. (The Dolphins insist Ross already had gone to London by that point, never went to China, and the three days didn’t sidetrack the search.) None of this is noted to rip the hard-working LaCanfora, but perspective is needed on these types of eyebrow-raising reports.

### Please check back later for the Sunday buzz column, with lots of Dolphins and Canes, plus Heat.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz